Do you have contracts with your clients?
While most artists agree contracts are good to have, they don’t always use them.
Usually it works out fine either way, but whether or not you choose to use a contract often comes down your risk tolerance and how well you know the potential client.
Here’s what artists who generally do have contracts say:
I try to keep my contracts as simple as possible. They can get really complicated and if I get a multi-page contract from a client, I usually try to refuse it. Because there’s going to be something in there that can screw you over time. So I like to keep it as simple as a certain amount of photos or video and usage and call it good. But they can get, obviously, way more complicated than that.
I’ve never personally had a bad experience with a contract. But there are a lot of them out there and photography gets used in ways you didn’t think it was supposed to.
If somebody sends you a multi-page contract, you need a lawyer to read that for you unless you have some kind of experience with it. They need to read it to you and you need to decide if that’s something you want to do, which ends up being a lot of work.
Yes, I have a contract that I send over to everybody. Actually I have two different contracts, one for mural work and one for design work. The potential for accidents on a mural is a lot higher. And frequently the bigger clients will have a contract of theirs that I sign as well.
I think my contracts mostly cover me, but there could be things that cancel each other out, I don’t really know, so I’m meeting with a lawyer in the next couple of weeks to review the two contracts. It’s going to be expensive —about $2,000 — but the potential repercussions for having a bad contract are way worse. It could be hundreds of thousands of dollars that I’m out. So I feel like at this point in my career it’s time and I’m willing to make that investment.
I think another big part of why I’ve been able to have some success in freelance design and fine art is by approaching it very systematically and very much like a normal business and not just like, Oh yeah, I’ll paint that or I can design this — no, we’re going to have a contract, I’m going to maintain rights to this and I’m going to get paid 50% to start and 50% after for design.
I usually read the situation. If it’s for someone I’ve been working with for a while, I don’t have contracts. I’m not too worried about it.
I’ve gone through quite a lot [of contracts]. I think my most recent one I pulled from another designer online. He just put it out there for other people to use and I just modified it to fit what I needed.
I try to work with companies who aren’t strangers. Either I know the company or somebody in that company or they have a good reputation.
But normally, yeah, I’ll see the contract first and then I may have to go back and be like, Well if I do this illustration for you I’m going to retain copyright ownership of the illustration even if you want a full buyout of it. You have full rights to use it but I still retain ownership of this image, just so there’s no argument down the road of them saying We own this style because it’s associated with our company and nobody else can use it. So it’s just trying to cover my back.
I just write it out and make sure it’s very upfront in initial emails, when I’m giving them a quote, even before we sign a contract. Just so they know.
Typically, everything is contractual. If I haven’t worked with someone before, a lot of times I won’t even give people design or conceptual stuff until I’m under contract.
I try to have a contract, especially if I know it’s going to be time-consuming or anything that’s more of a commitment of longer than two weeks, I would for sure try to do one. I usually have the client write that up and then just scan it and tell them what if anything is lacking or I need more protections for.
I had a few experiences that weren’t so good. I used to just do it by my word, I never had anything written down, but then I got screwed over a couple of times and I didn’t want that to happen again. I have a friend, Holly Rae Vaughn, who’s a muralist in Las Vegas and she’s very business minded. I reached out to her to ask her about contracts and she sent me her list of contracts, the dos and don’ts and that was very helpful. You’ve got to do contracts and stuff.
And here’s what the artists who don’t always have contracts say:
Bree: Basically the $100 deposit is the contract.
They’ve generally been good experiences. . . .
Nate: We definitely have had artist friends say, You guys should really do a contract. But we don’t want to deter our clientele from moving forward because typically it’s just an average family, not a business. We’re walking a fine line – we work with a lot of businesses, but most of our work is with everyday consumers.
B: Someone who saved a lot of money to get a nice gift. And this is the experience: They’ll pick it up and we’ll be like, Let’s have a beer! We’ll sit and look at the piece and talk about it and they’ll say, Oh, this is so great! People are crying and we’ll all hug and it’s a really good experience. We want to keep it that way, not like a cash register situation.
N: And the deposit was even a hard decision to make, but we were losing a lot of time. Spending so much time and people would just walk away.
B: Months’ worth of emailing and they’d just disappear.
N: So now people understand. We phrase it in a way where we just ask for this small amount. And most people say, Great, it’s no big deal, let’s do it.
I still don’t give clients contracts most of the time. . . . I just don’t like sitting down and writing them up. I had to do one for a recent job and it was written up more to their liking than mine and they took advantage of it. I think I only got paid like $5 an hour on it and it was just a big bummer. They had me come back and do a whole bunch of additional work. Contracts are important and I think maybe I’ll learn my lesson after this last one.
It’s also important to see that your needs are being attended to and put your foot down when something doesn’t sound right. I think clients respect that if you can do it in a polite way.
I have them available but I just use Zelle or Venmo as my contract or my records instead of spending more time writing out a contract. And a lot of people personally know me or met me throughout the years.
Sometimes. [Depends on] the client, I would say. Or the size of the project.